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Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Page: 8100

Dr ALY (Cowan) (12:01): The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2018 is a really important piece of legislation. I'm very pleased to stand up here today and contribute to the discussion on this bill, particularly as a survivor of domestic violence. I often say that, though my experiences happened many, many years ago and I've come a very, very long way since then, when you have survived domestic violence, there is always a little part of you that remains broken and that you carry with you throughout your life, no matter how far you come. And while this bill is important—and I know that my colleagues who have spoken before me have spoken on the specifics of the bill and what the bill legislates, so I won't go too deeply into that—I just point out to the House here that we still have a very long way to go.

Current estimates of the extent of domestic violence suggest that one in six women will have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner from the age of 15, and one in four women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner. I'd like to just ask the House here to take time to think about what that looks like. What that looks like is that, if you can imagine walking through a shopping centre, one in every four women that you see walking past you as you walk through that shopping centre will have experienced some form of violence in her life. That's a pretty staggering statistic. So far today, police in Australia would have dealt with, on average, around 300 domestic violence incidents, and that will increase every two minutes. So, while I'm speaking here, over the next 15 minutes or so, that means another seven cases will have been dealt with by police in Australia.

As well meaning as our Prime Minister's words are about respect for women, they don't go far enough, because this is not just about respect for women; this is about taking actual action to improve the lives of domestic violence survivors and also to stop the scourge of family and domestic violence. As long as we only talk about respect for women, those words become empty platitudes that have no real meaning and no real significance to the lives of people who are currently suffering family and domestic violence or who have suffered and survived family and domestic violence—because, as I said, it is not just about respect.

Colleagues who have spoken before me have spoken about resourcing our courts. Labor, of course, has a very strong position on that and has made some very strong statements about the need to adequately resource our courts, particularly in our states, not only in order to meet the requirements of this legislation practically but also to ensure that those who are suffering family and domestic violence have a fair and expedited process through which they can go.

I also want to mention access to family and domestic violence leave, which the previous member also spoke about. About six months ago, the Western Australia government legislated family and domestic violence leave. Since that regime was instituted by the WA Labor government six months ago, WA public servants have taken 150 days of family and domestic violence leave. That is certainly a very surprising statistic for many of us in Western Australia.

I also think we need to take more action on financial abuse—the hidden side of domestic violence. Speaking of my own experiences, when I finally had the will—as opposed to the means or, indeed, the courage—to leave a domestic violence situation, I found myself in a situation of abject poverty, with huge debts to meet and no way of actually meeting them. So, if we are going to back up our words with actions, we need to look more holistically at the range of issues that arise in family and domestic violence situations. One of them, of course, is financial abuse and the financial situation that many victims of family and domestic violence find themselves in when they finally leave an abusive relationship.

Importantly, we need to break the culture of silence and acceptance of family and domestic violence that exists within some communities. We need to start by educating police officers and service providers to not misjudge family violence, where, in some cases, they leave victims in a situation of family violence or, in some cases, issue notices against victims. I would like to tell a story here, Several years ago, I became aware, through community contacts, of two young girls who were being violently abused by their father. Over a period of a number of weeks they had been subjected to physical abuse by their father. I had a community meeting and at that community meeting we decided that we should go to the authorities. So I took it upon myself to notify the authorities of this information that I had received. The authorities then went in and removed those two young girls—I think they were 15 and 16 years old—from their family situation.

A couple of weeks later, I got called in to a meeting. Present at that meeting that I attended were representatives from the service providers and two self-appointed representatives from that particular culturally and linguistically diverse community. Those two representatives from that community proceeded to chastise the service providers for removing the girls from their family. A number of weeks later I found out that the service providers had caved in to the community representatives and had returned those two young girls to the violent situation within their family. As much as I tried to find information about what happened to those young girls, I'm sorry to say that I don't know. To this day, I remain concerned about what happened to those two young girls and their wellbeing. We need to break this culture of silence and to have an open discussion about family and domestic violence, particularly within some culturally and linguistically diverse communities, without fear and without being reprimanded, basically, by some members of those communities who wish to sweep these issues under the carpet.

We also need to look at accessible support services for those who are in a situation of family and domestic violence—when and where those support services are needed. Several years ago, when I was a mum—I'm still a mum, but this was when I was a mum of young boys and doing the school run—I remember being stopped by another mum after dropping off my sons at school. She knew that I worked in government and that I worked in the community sector. She pulled me aside and proceeded to tell me about her sister who was in a family-violence situation. She asked me how I could help and what she could do to help her sister get out of that situation.

It struck my mind, then, that these kinds of support services need to be reaching out to women who perhaps don't have the capacity, the knowledge or the ability to go to those support services when they need to. They need to be able to resource support services adequately so that these services can do that kind of work, so that they can get out into communities, so that they can reach some of the most vulnerable in our society who may not be able to access those services. It is one way of taking action on our words about respect and on our words about ending family and domestic violence.

I've noticed a very worrying trend in our society—and a growing trend, I have to say. It is a trend in the development of a very toxic discourse around domestic violence. It is a discourse that blames the victim and that paints men who perpetrate violence as victims—and women who suffer from domestic violence as somehow deserving of it, as somehow bringing it upon themselves. This is something particularly close to my heart. I know I didn't deserve to be slapped. I didn't deserve to be kicked. I didn't deserve to be punched. No matter what I did, I didn't deserve that. No woman, no child, no man—no person—deserves to be hit, to be slapped, to be punched or to be abused. I must speak out against this trend. I must speak out against this trend that I've seen on social media, that I've seen in some parts of media discourse, that seeks to turn the blame onto the victims—as if, somehow, it is their fault that they are in a situation of family and domestic violence. There is never any blame to be laid on the victims, because never do victims deserve to be abused and hit and punched and slapped and kicked and humiliated in the ways that I was when I was in a violent relationship.

So, yes, this legislation is important. All legislation that we take and all measures that we take to end family violence, to ease the process of justice for victims of family violence, to assist our courts in dealing with family violence, to assist our police in dealing with the calls they have to attend domestic-violence situations—one every two minutes—are really important. But I do reiterate that they are not enough. We're simply not doing enough. The fact that we are here in 2018 and that family and domestic violence statistics clearly show this is a situation that is not getting any better, speaks volumes and should be a wake-up call to all of us here in the House that we are not doing enough, that we need to do more than just talk about respect for women. Respect may be where it starts, but it certainly isn't where it ends. It's not enough to say that we respect women; it's not enough just to offer those words. As a survivor myself, I know that those words have empty meaning when they're not backed up by action.

So I appreciate the opportunity today to speak on this legislation. And I end where I started: it is an important piece of legislation but it's certainly not enough. Unless we back it up with actions, unless we provide more support services, unless we resource our courts better, unless we have a program of educating our police and our service providers about domestic violence—about the impacts that it has—and unless we take a concerted effort to break this culture of silence, to break the stigma of domestic violence in our society, this situation is not going to get any better.